War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2007

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

The few mentions of war tax resistance in the Friends Journal in were mostly looks at war tax resisters from Quaker history, though there was some mention of Daniel Jenkins’s ongoing attempt to get the courts to discover a Constitutional right to conscientious objection to military taxation.

The issue contained a letter-to-the-editor from Perry Treadwell in which he chided Friends for letting their peace testimony slacken. Excerpts:

I received another of those IRS letters that I have been getting off and on for the past 35 years. They tell me to pay back taxes, penalties, and interest. It still gives me that slight kick in the stomach. I sent back another letter informing them again that as a member of the Religious Society of Friends my belief dictates that I cannot pay for killing.…

Where is the passion of the Friends to witness our Peace Testimony?

Recently a member of Atlanta (Ga.) Meeting defended his paying income taxes by using the same argument that Stan Becker proposes in his Viewpoint in the October issue, "How Can We Work More for Peace Than for War?" [see ♇ ]: using money and/or time commitment for peace purposes. How many cluster bombs have been bought with their tax money? Each day I weep seeing the list in the New York Times of those killed in Iraq, particularly the 18–20-year-olds. I cannot describe the impact the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis we have slaughtered has on me.

What if 500 Friends withheld $10–$100 from their tax returns? What if more did so ? Throw sand in the wheels of the IRS. Put our money where our collective mouths are when it comes to Peace Tax Fund legislation. That might get Congressional attention.

What are we afraid of? War tax refusal is not to be feared. In fact, it has opened up for me whole new opportunities for service and ministry.

The issue included Daniel Jenkins’s article “The Liberation of Nathan Swift,” which concerned the arrest of a Quaker in for his refusal to pay a militia exemption tax, and his subsequent release from jail when New York Governor William Seward intervened. Seward later, in an address to the legislature, endorsed an amendment to the state Constitution that would release conscientious objectors from the militia exemption tax (Jenkins finds indications that a subsequent Constitutional Convention did in fact change the Constitution in this way).

Jenkins saw this story as inspiration for the movement advocating a Peace Tax Fund law, saying it showed that with persistent witness and lobbying, it is possible to get a government to make concessions to conscientious objectors to military taxes.

The author’s note mentioned that Jenkins had “taken a military tax objection case into the federal courts with the support of a clearness committee, financial assistance from Purchase Quarterly Meeting, and an amicus brief submitted by New York Yearly Meeting,” and that the article was a revised and expanded version of “an oral report presented by the Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation Sub-Committee of the Peace Concerns Committee at a yearly meeting session held in .”

A later update on Jenkins’s legal case noted that his appeal had been turned down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals:

Jenkins… bore witness to the leading of his conscience that paying taxes for war is wrong by withholding his payment of federal income tax and setting it aside in escrow until the government agreed to use it only for nonmilitary purposes. For this he had been penalized not only with the tax and ordinary penalties and interest, but also with a $5,000 fine for bringing forth what the government contended was a “frivolous” case. Lawyer Fred Dettmer, clerk for the Witness Coordinating Committee of New York Yearly Meeting…, argued the appeal. Relying on the First and Ninth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, he argued that Jenkins wanted to pay his taxes but the government must accommodate his conscientious insistence that his money not pay for military expenditures. On , prior to the argument of appeal, more than 30 Friends had gathered in the cafeteria of the Federal Court House in Manhattan for a special meeting of worship. In rejecting the appeal, Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote that such religious objections to military activity have previously been rejected and that Jenkins’ appeal was no different, though it was “presented in unusual garb.” The Witness Coordinating Committee is conferring on next steps, including possibly appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(An update in the issue noted that Jenkins was denied cert on his appeal to the Supreme Court on . It said that Jenkins was preparing an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.)

Jenkins’s article was mentioned in the issue’s introductory editorial, where editor Susan Corson-Finnerty wrote that “[t]he willingness of Quakers in that period to risk the loss of their property and their freedom and to go to jail, as Nathan Swift did, for the sake of their belief in nonviolence and their faithfulness to that leading was remarkable.”

A historical overview of Carolina Quakers in the issue noted:

Carolina Quakers as a rule stuck hard by the Peace Testimony; their refusal to bear arms was honored to some degree, at least during more peaceful times. As tensions rose between colonists and the Crown over exploitation of resources and taxes, Quakers and other peace church people in the Carolinas — Mennonites, Brethren, and Moravians — suffered disproportionately. For instance, in they were assessed a threefold amount for requisition of supplies for the army. The Advice issued by Western Quarterly Meeting was to refuse compliance, and many did so; many property seizures ensued. Others suffered also, as many agents of the Colonial government were corrupt and were pocketing much of their collections; seized property was often sold for small sums to friends and relatives of these agents.